Words by: Nathan Rodriguez :: Images by: Rob Foster & Andrew Wyatt
Wakarusa Music & Camping Festival
06.07.07 – 06.10.07 :: Clinton Lake State Park :: Lawrence, KS
Not In Kansas Anymore
A description of Lawrence favored by locals tells us that the town is: "not Kansas." It's the lone blue speck in an otherwise red state. At last year's Wakarusa Music Festival, Lawrence felt like Kansas. Law enforcement agencies converged and seemed intent on making their presence felt. More than 100 arrests were made, with many concertgoers vowing never to return. The "security situation" became conversation fodder for university classrooms and downtown coffee shops in the weeks that followed, with the overwhelming opinion of the local community bordering on outrage: This is Lawrence, not Kansas.
Wakarusa 2007 by Foster
What a difference a year makes.
Festival organizers promised a "kinder, gentler" security presence, and—believe it or not—that's precisely how events unfolded. Last year, entry to the park took several hours, with lines of traffic extending more than a mile. This year, the line rarely exceeded a dozen cars, and a quick flash of identification would suffice. Last year, according to the Lawrence Journal-World, there were more than 100 arrests, this year there were 14. Festival organizers relied on security folks that had worked at Phish's summer festivals, who kept things running smoothly during the four days, proving that you don't need hidden cameras and night vision goggles to keep concertgoers safe.
Indeed, the only real problem many Wakarusians experienced was one faced by many Type A tourists on vacation: too much to see and not enough time to see it all. Many bands only played a single set during the weekend, so inhumane choices had to be made - Galactic or Ozomatli, Sam Bush or Les Claypool, Medeski Martin & Wood or Martin Sexton. However you chose you sacrificed one experience to gain another. 25 shows in less than 100 hours sounds respectable until you realize that meant you missed more than 75 other performances. All things considered, it's a fun problem to have.
Day 1: Thursday, June 7
The Allstars Throwdown
Conditions were windy early, with gusts heaving the 90-degree-plus heat across the campgrounds.
Wakarusa 2007 by Wyatt
Crooked Still seemed amazed to be in Kansas, yet somehow not surrounded by inbred, corn-fed hicks in overalls with pitchforks, making no less than half a dozen comments about playing in Kansas in their first half hour onstage. A satisfying take of the ancient English ballad "Dreadful Wind and Rain" spiced things up, quickly followed by Robert Johnson's "Someone In My Kitchen" and Bob Dylan's "Oxford Town." The band's sound was crowded at times with Aoife O'Donovan's sultry, engaging voice nearly drowned out by the rest of the group. There was unfortunate tension between talented cellist Rushad Eggleston and O'Donovan, with each vocalizing their distaste of the other's attempts to juice up the crowd, which detracted from an otherwise pleasurable set.
Thirty minutes after Crooked Still finished, the Spam All-Stars kicked things off at the Campground Stage, about half a mile from the other main stages. It was a pared down version of the group, with evil genius DJ Spam behind the turntables backing a quartet of Tomas Diaz on timbales, A.J. Hill on sax, Mercedes Abal on flute and Chad Bernstein on trombone. The music never stopped. During the 75-minute set, it was easy to have a "new favorite" band member every 10 minutes. The group celebrated Abal's birthday with a short, funky version of "Happy Birthday." They ended with an amusing conch shell solo by Bernstein that punctuated a rousing, double-time rendition of War's "Low Rider." It was an all-around superb performance from start to finish.
Late in the afternoon, an ominous wall of pregnant clouds threatened festivities, but the system skirted south and the skies cleared for The New Mastersounds' set at the Revival Tent. These guys made quite a few friends in two days with their full-throttle funk from across the pond. They have a light bounce similar to the Greyboy Allstars but also have the well-defined, deep grooves of Galactic. Immaculately tight, their cohesion allowed them to stop on a dime or break it down to one member for a solo. The band invited Papa Mali to trade licks with guitarist Eddie Roberts for about ten minutes. I had been thinking they were young, yet sounded like they had been playing together for a decade, which actually wasn't too far from the truth. They've been together for nine years. One of the best surprises of the festival, these guys are well worth checking out if they happen to be near your area code. This is a quartet hell-bent on proving that "British Funk" isn't an oxymoron after all.
Eddie Roberts - New Mastersounds
Wakarusa 2007 by Foster
For the first portion of their set, the North Mississippi Allstars seemed to be either searching for their groove or demonstrating their versatility by traversing blues, gospel rock and honky-tonk. Bassist Chris Chew made a strong case for assuming a more prominent role on vocals with a soulful interpretation of "Drowning on Dry Land." About 40 minutes in, the band hit on all cylinders and delivered a seamless "Mark On the Bus" > "Hey Bo Diddley" >" Who Do You Love" trifecta. After the crowd helped belt out the vocals to "Bo Diddley," Luther Dickinson unleashed an inspired, uninhibited solo to begin "Who Do You Love" that marked the beginning of one of the finest stretches of music during the festival. The band tightened up the beat, picked up the pace and seemed to be reveling in the moment - they began playing music instead of songs.
At this point, the first sizable crowd of the festival raised temperatures inside the Revival Tent by a full 15-20 degrees. The final hour was as instrumentally impressive as any 60-minute slice from any band during the four-day weekend. NMA dipped into the Dylan archives with "Slow Train Comin'" as keyboardist Kurt Clayton offered tasteful fills to complement Luther's pinching, angular licks and convincing vocal delivery. The jam out of "Horseshoe" featured a playful tease of "When The Saints Come Marching In," before drummer Cody Dickinson hastened the pace back into "Horseshoe."
Luther Dickinson - NMA
Wakarusa 2007 by Foster
A short while later, they tossed in a hard-hitting cover of the Jimi Hendrix's "Hear My Train A Comin'." When the band finally lumbered offstage, the spontaneous roar from the audience was deafening. The Allstars encored with a crowd-pleasing "All Night Long" > "Turn On Your Lovelight" > "All Night Long" sandwich. It was an action-packed, high-energy, non-stop two-hour performance that left both the band and appreciative crowd gasping for breath by the end.
Walking in to check out The Motet, led by drummer extraordinaire Dave Watts, we were happy to find that The Campground Tent still had ample space for dancing behind the soundboard and were immediately greeted by smooth, fast moving jazz-trance music. The relatively simple, layered rhythmic patterns were visually aided by a fire dancer outside the tent and a mesmerizing light show inside with swirling, fluid colorations projected on the ceiling. Though the audio-visual spectacle became slightly repetitive at times, it was a half hour well-spent at a good show.
Continue reading for Day 2...